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Kofi Annan Appeals To Leaders For Solution In Syria


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Kofi Annan is making a big push today to try to keep his peace plan for Syria on track. Mr. Annan managed to get all of the U.N. Security Council members in some key countries in the region together in Geneva today to support his ideas for promoting a political transition. He is calling it the action group. But diplomats still don't seem quite ready to act. So far, they've spent the day wrangling over language for a final communique. And it's not clear that the major powers really have the influence to stop a war which has already killed tens of thousands of people. NPR's Michelle Kelemen has been traveling with Secretary of State Clinton and was there in Geneva. Michele joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nice to be here, Scott.

SIMON: First of all, what's in Mr. Annan's plan?

KELEMEN: He's calling for Syrians to put together a national unity government and then write a constitution and have new elections. The U.S. calls it a detailed political road map. But what we've seen so far has been fairly diplomatic language. You know, Russia doesn't want this to look like the outside world is demanding regime change. So, Annan's proposal's made clear that this is going to be a Syrian-led process. But the former U.N. secretary-general, who's now this joint U.N. and Arab League envoy has pointed out that it would be naive to think that the parties could do this alone. So, the idea is that countries with influence on Bashar al-Assad's regime should use that influence to get this political plan implemented. And those with influence with the opposition to do the same, to get them to the negotiating table.

SIMON: How much of the impetus for this plan derives from the fact that the Syrians shot down a Turkish recon plan last week?

KELEMEN: Well, he was planning on holding this already, but does add a whole new dimension, and Turkey is part of what he's calling this action group. It's Turkey, it's several Arab League countries and it's all five permanent U.N. Security Council members. So, that drama does cast a shadow really over this today. And it's one of the things that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised with Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, when she met him in St. Petersburg before we arrived here. And she was really pushing this issue that this is a regional conflict. You have the tensions with Turkey. You have the potential for spillover in Lebanon. There's concern in Jordan. So, that this is really the time for the international community to get its act together on this.

SIMON: Do you see any signs, Michelle, that when all is said and done the Russians are really getting ready to ease Bashar al-Assad offstage?

KELEMEN: You know, Scott, they've said they're not wedded to him but they've also made clear that they don't think the world should be dictating Assad's future. So, the language that Kofi Annan has been using has been very diplomatic. He says that his international unity government can include members of the government and the opposition but not ones that will be unacceptable to others or too divisive. I mean, that clearly means Assad will be out of the picture. U.S. officials say they're not going to be able to get the opposition to agree on anything that allows Assad to be at the negotiating table. So, this plan is really about a post-Assad Syria without demanding that upfront or naming names in that specific way.

SIMON: And I gather Mr. Annan wanted all of this to be hammered before they met today. But I gather it didn't seem to be a lot of signs of unity and amity.

KELEMEN: No. You know, what looked like a pretty simple idea turned out to be the source of a lot of diplomatic wrangling. The Russians wanted changes that the U.S. felt really gutted the agreement. Secretary Clinton tried to hammer that out with Lavrov on the eve of this meeting, but U.S. officials are sounding really quite downbeat now. They say that discussions remain challenging. They say they want a plan that's credible and strong and that we just may not get there. And, you know, if I were to sum up U.S. policy on Syria, I'd say it's mainly about blaming Russia for not helping. And you can be sure that they're going to blame Russia again if this doesn't work out today.

SIMON: Any sense, Michelle, that diplomats think that even this plan would make any difference on the ground?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, none of Kofi Annan's six-point plans have been working so far. There's not even a cease-fire. Unarmed U.N. monitors have had to suspend their operations and are sitting at their bases unable to do their job. So, it's really hard to see a diplomatic communique having a real impact on the ground, but there's also a feeling that there aren't really other options out there.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen, who's traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Geneva today. Thanks so much.

KELEMEN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.